On December 1, 1955, the arrest of equal rights activist Rosa Parks ignited a national spark that set forth the Civil Rights Movement and shaped black rights. When Parks boarded the Cleveland Avenue Bus, she refused to give up her seat to a white passenger, and as she recalled, “when that White driver stepped back toward us, when he waved his hand and ordered us up and out of our seats, I felt a determination cover my body like a quilt on a winter night.” In a confrontation with Montgomery, Alabama’s bus segregation laws, Parks was arrested and booked into the county jail. When she called her mother, the first words her mother asked were, “did they beat you?”, revealing the common yet underrepresented police brutality that persisted without punishment during this time. As a result of the incident, approximately 40,000 African Americans took part in a 381-day boycott that gained the advocation of globally recognized human rights activist, Martin Luther King Jr..
Amidst the bus boycott, in the 1956 court case Browder v. Gayle, the Court overturned bus segregation, citing, “indeed, we think that such liberty is guaranteed by the due process clause of that [Fourteenth] Amendment.” The decision was then upheld by the Supreme Court as they established the fundamental value of equality between whites and blacks under the reconstructive Amendments, added to the Constitution after the Civil War.
Rosa Parks’s actions incited a movement that paved a path for the development of equal rights in the U.S. while her voice of activism following her arrest shifted the paradigms of what black equality truly meant in a nation claimed to be the land of the free. These racist laws aimed to segregate blacks created racial barriers that divided the country and framed blacks as an inferior race by moral and legal standards. Ultimately, Rosa Parks defied these barriers and discriminatory laws, transforming the way the nation viewed equal rights, and leading to the future Civil Rights Act of 1964.